AUGUSTA, Maine — Carolyn Knights of Oxford was outside the Augusta Civic Center on Sunday morning awaiting the start of the Freedom Salute for the 488th Military Police Company, who returned to Maine on June 15 from a year-long deployment.
“You don’t want to interview me. I’m just a grandmother,” she said before breaking into tears while talking about how hard it was when her grandson, Spc. Jesse Clement of Anson, was deployed to Afghanistan.
When she learned her grandson would be heading into harm’s way, Knights said, “I was scared.”
That is when the first tear broke free from her eyelids and made its way past her glasses. Knights spoke with her husband and other family members flanking her as she talked about writing her grandson letters twice a week.
“I tried not to watch TV. I didn’t want to see what was going on over there, and I did a lot of praying,” she said.
Knights was one of the many family members who attended the Freedom Salute to honor those who served in uniform, and they in turn were honored by the dignitaries on the stage — Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell, adjutant general of Maine, Gov. Paul LePage, Rep. Mike Michaud and unit commander Capt. Eric Dos Santos — who all thanked the families for the support provided from home.
“You’ve made some amazing sacrifices,” LePage said.
“They never wavered in their support or love,” Michaud said.
“The support … was nothing but amazing,” Dos Santos said when he took the podium. “The parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters and significant others — nobody, besides those who have been through it, understands like you.
“Together, we did make it through it,” the unit commander said to family members of his unit.
Also honored were four members of 121st Public Affairs Detachment, from Augusta, who deployed to Kosovo as part of a U.N. Peacekeeping mission called Kosovo Force.
“Good things come in small packages,” Campbell said when talking about the “remarkable job” the four members of the 121st did to promote the Guard.
The 488th was sent to Bagram Airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Its mission was to conduct police, detainment and stability operations and help train Afghanistan forces. The Maine Army National Guard unit, based in Waterville with a detachment in Houlton, left Maine in July 2012.
“My husband deployed years ago during Desert Storm, and it’s a whole different ball game when it’s your son,” Palermo resident Beth Chamberlain said, referring to her son, Spc. Luke Chamberlain, also of Palermo. “I couldn’t think about it because your mind always goes to the dark place. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.”
Charleston resident Rachel Bowman, who has been married to Spc. Robert Bowman for two years, and Orland resident Haley Brown, who has been married to Spc. Joseph Brown for the last year, both said the separation was extremely hard but has made them appreciate “all the little things” their husbands do.
“It makes your relationship stronger,” said Bowman, who just learned she is pregnant with the couple’s second child. “You appreciate each other so much more.”
While the unit was gone, Brown realized that, “All the things that used to drive you crazy, like his snoring, you realize you miss. You think, now, ‘I kinda miss his snoring.’”
Not only are the lasting relationships stronger and the families are closer, but the unit is closer, Brown added.
“Even they appreciate each other more now,” she said.